Dealing wth Depression in Japan

by Tom Connors

Dealing wth Depression in Japan

Keeping The “Depression Dragon” At Bay

Over the last several years, there has been much discussion in the media about depression, which has been called “the common cold of mental illness”. If people are struggling with depression in their own country, the problem is worse for those who are living in another country and culture such as here in Japan. I recall the story I heard a few years ago about a Canadian woman who came to Japan to teach in the JET program. After six months living and working in Tokyo, she tragically ended her life by jumping in front of a subway train. One could say that depression is a quiet killer which affects people in many ways. I’m not a psychiatrist or psychologist but I am a person who has experienced what has been called the “darkness of the soul”. I want to share a few ideas which have helped me in my fight with the dragon.

In the movie “The Last Samurai”, Ken Watanabe’s character talked about how important it is to learn about your enemy. This is true about depression. The more you know about it, the more strength you’ll have to deal with it. Depression is not a sign of inferiority, insanity, or punishment for sins. It is a disease like diabetes that has a physical component as well as an emotional/mental aspect. One book that has really helped me is Dr. David Burns’ Feeling Good from the 1980s and the updated version “The Feeling Good Handbook” which is available on Amazon. Dr. Burns is a cognitive therapy expert, and the information about depression, self-help exercises, and drug treatment is very, very useful.

Second, it’s important to understand the country and the culture in which we live. We should not try to rebuild the Japanese people in our own image. In a sense, Japan can be viewed as a village culture writ large and in which relationships take time and patience to be built. Keeping in touch with other educators can help-for example, in knowing that they have challenges just like you and finding out how they cope. There are many forums on the Internet for teachers to share ideas and give moral support to each other. Be careful, though, of sites which are basically rants of people that have nothing good to say about teaching and living here. Try to be positive and content with what you are able to do in Japan. I often tell my students to stop using the “d word” (difficult) and replace it with the “c word” (challenge). If we also have that same challenge attitude it will help us to face what we have to deal with.

Next, in a group-oriented country like Japan it’s important not to isolate oneself (which is easy to do). Find a group or groups in which you can participate. These can be religious, self-help, hobby, friendship or other groups. An online magazine called Tokyo Metropolis has listings for many groups every week. We can build a support system and grow. I think that this is very important.

Another important thing is to pace yourself. Learn what your limits are and strive to keep a balance between work and health.. Give yourself permission to leave your work and enjoy down time with family and friends.
Finally, learn about what kind of resources are available in the community to help. I’ve listed a few and I hope they are useful. An old saying says “This too shall pass”. With help and over time it is possible to keep the “depression dragon” at bay.

Resources Available

International Mental Health Professionals Japan

Feeling Good-The New Mood Therapy David D. Burns
New York: Signet, 1980.

The Feeling Good Handbook David D. Burns
New York: Penguin, 1999

Tokyo English Life Line 03-5774-0992

TELL Counseling 03-4550-`1147

TELL Website

Inochi no Denwa (Japanese Life Line) 03-3263-5794

Relaxation Audio Exercises

Dr. Jim McCrae, Psychologist in Tokyo area (Kanto)
Tel 042-636-5426

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